An 8-ingredient curry with flaky fish in a spiced, creamy curry sauce. The tamarind juice gives the flavorful Singapore Tamarind Coconut Fish Curry a delicious citrusy acidity (and makes sure there is no fishy flavor)- unusual for a curry, but makes for a super satisfying meal with white rice. (Dairy-free) (Stovetop)
⭐ Why This Recipe Is a Star
- This coconut fish curry recipe makes a delicious complete meal: add some veggies, such as green bell peppers, pair with jasmine rice and you have a nutritious meal. (Or use cauliflower rice or brown rice if you're on a low-GI diet!)
- No special ingredients needed: other than the slightly more unusual tamarind, the rest are easy-to-find simple ingredients. No Indian spices such as yellow mustard seeds, mustard oil, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds or ground coriander required for the curry paste!
Note: This dish shouldn't be confused with the classic Malaysian dish/ Singaporean dish, Asam pedas (which requires more herbs such as daun kesum (Vietnamese coriander) and torch ginger flower) or fish head curry (which uses fish curry powder).
🥥 Ingredients & Substitutes
You will need the following for the tangy fish curry:
- Firm White Fish Fillet: See below for the types of fish you can use. I've also made this successfully with other proteins such as pork. However, unfortunately for vegans or vegetarians who like Asian food, the sauce doesn't complement the taste of mushrooms very well. (I used king oyster mushrooms, a very meaty mushroom that is often used as a meat substitute, but the resulting dish wasn't one I'd care to repeat! ) For Asian recipes for vegans, click here.
- Tamarind: Add water to tamarind pulp or tamarind paste (locally known as Assam) to make tamarind water. This gives the curry a unique flavor. (You can find it at the Thai grocer or Indian store. I have not tried substituting with lime juice or lemon juice.) For more tamarind recipe ideas, such as mee siam soup or stir-fried mee siam , click here or here for vegan tamarind dishes.
- Coconut cream: you can also use full-fat coconut milk as a substitute. Leave the can in the fridge and skim off the thick part on the top to use in the coconut curry. (Don't shake the can but you may need to whisk the solid layer before using.)
- Dried Chillies: remember to remove the seeds so that it won't be too spicy! And don't touch your eyes after handling chilies as it will burn like mad! You can also use chili paste or 1 of these chilli alternatives as substitutes.
- Lemongrass: this is often sold as a big bunch and adds a lovely flavor to curries. If you need ideas for what to do with the rest, click here for more Asian lemon grass recipes.
- Turmeric: Substitute with a teaspoon of turmeric powder or 1 of these alternatives to using turmeric. For more easy turmeric recipes, click here
- Aromatics: Garlic & Fresh Ginger are used in the spice paste for this spicy tamarind fish curry. You can store extra ground ginger paste in the freezer for future use!
- Fish Sauce: you can also use salt instead
- Optional garnishes: green onions, curry leaves, sambal belacan, coriander leaves or sliced green chillies
Note: this recipe is adapted from a vintage cookbook that came with a calendar. Unlike Singapore in the 80s, most of us don't have time to grate our own coconuts anymore, so I've changed the recipe to use packaged coconut cream/ milk instead to make things more convenient!
Type of Fish
I usually use cod filets, halibut, nile fish filets or sutchi filet.
However, traditionally, Singaporean homes would use fish fillets such as Spanish Mackerel (ikan tenggiri), red snapper (ikan merah), threadfin (ikan kurau) and even sea bass.
Avoid fish that dries out easily when cooked for too long, such as tuna, marlin and swordfish.
When I don't have fresh fish on-hand or time to thaw, I add frozen fish pieces directly to the sauce and simmer till cooked through.
You can also add these items to the easy fish curry (curries are a great fridge-clean out dish!):
- broccoli florets
- snow peas
- green beans
- tomato wedges
- okra/ lady fingers (it will naturally thicken the sauce a little)
🔪 Step-by-step Instructions
- Cut the spice paste ingredients and blend or pound into a fine paste.
Note: the curry is yellow and not red, as no Kashmiri chili powder is used. However, it has a great depth of flavor nonetheless.
2. Heat the cooking oil, and stir-fry the rempah till fragrant and the oil separates out. (The color will darken once cooked enough.)
3. Add the coconut cream- water mix, bring to the boil then add the fish and reduce the heat to a simmer.
Note: we don't season till the end of the cooking process because the sauce may end up too salty after cooking down, if we season early.
4. Add the tamarind juice and simmer for another 2-3 minutes or till the fish is cooked. Add more water till the gravy is at your ideal consistency/ tastiness.
Season with fish sauce or salt, to taste.
Note: the exact cooking time will depend on the type and size of the fish. (Frozen or bigger fish pieces will take longer to cook.) It will be opaque throughout and flaky when cooked through.
🥘 How to Serve
🥡 How to Store
Keep for no more than 1-2 days in an air-tight container in the fridge as coconut doesn't last very long before going bad.
When reheating, do it gently as you want to warm up the fish but not change its texture.
Some people freeze curries for longer storage, but I've never done so. If you do so, I suggest just freezing the sauce as re-cooked fish will deteriorate slightly in texture (It may become tough.)
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
Tip #1: You can meal prep by blending the rempah ingredients into a smooth paste beforehand and freezing it. Simply use a clean spoon to scoop out a few tablespoons of the spice paste whenever you want to make this dish.
Tip #2: Like most stews and curries, this aromatic assam fish curry actually tastes better the next day, so it's great for making in advance (e.g. before a party or celebration such as Thanksgiving!)
Tip #3: If you prefer a lighter gravy, replace some coconut cream with coconut water. It keeps the coconut flavour but makes for a less heavy sauce. (Don't replace it completely though or the texture of the dish will change.)
🥗 Suggested Side Dishes
Love this Singapore coconut fish curry recipe? Please leave a 5-star 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟rating in the recipe card below & if you REALLY like it, I've love a comment! Thank you!
Singaporean Tamarind Coconut Fish Curry
- Knife and cutting board
- Granite mortar and pestle Do not use a ceramic one or you will end up cursing and swearing as the pounding will take FOREVER. Alternatively, give everything a blitz in the blender but note it doesn't quite release the flavours in the same way
- Pan and heat-proof spatula
- 15.9 oz white fish fillets (gutted and descaled) (450g) Wash the fish in salt water, then drain dry and cut into 1 inch/ 1,5 cm pieces. In Singapore, we use ikan tenggiri, ikan merah and ikan kurau, but you can also use a white fish like cod, halibut or tilapia. Substitute: pork (it will need to be cooked longer than the fish). Don't use oyster mushrooms as it doesn't go well with the tamarind.
- ⅖ Cup coconut cream (100ml), mixed with 1 Chinese bowl of water. Alternatively grate ½ a coconut and mix it with 225 ml of water. You can also skim off the thicker top of full-fat coconut milk and use it in place of coconut cream.
- 1 T tamarind paste Mix it with ¼-1/2 Chinese bowl of water
- fish sauce to taste, or salt
- 2 T vegetable oil or to taste. Don't use olive oil! Canola or sunflower works (palm oil is the traditional choice in South East Asia)
Rempah (to be pounded together- cut all the ingredients, where possible, before pounding)
- 4 dried chillies (Cut to facilitate pounding) (Remove the seeds to make it less spicy) Don't touch your eyes after touching the dried chillies or you will cry
- 2 lemongrass stalks (white part/ base) Chop extra fine before pounding to make life easier for yourself
- 1 piece turmeric Substitute with turmeric paste or 1 of these substitutes if you don't have fresh on hand
- 3 cloves garlic peeled
- 1 slice ginger Peel with the back of a spoon if you wish- i sometimes leave the skin on!
- Cut all the ingredients for the rempah, then pound (or blend) till fine.
- Heat the cooking oil, then fry the pounded rempah. Keep stirring and frying till the oil separates out and you can smell the fragrance of the ingredients.
- Add the coconut cream (mixed with water), bring to the boil then add the fish and reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Add the tamarind juice and simmer for another 2-3 minutes or till the fish is cooked. (Frozen or bigger fish pieces will take longer to cook.) Add more water till the gravy is at your ideal consistency/ tastiness.
- Add fish sauce or salt, to taste
- Serve with white rice, cauliflower rice or brown rice.
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